The Last Days of Dandān-Uiliq as Seen in Manuscripts and Coins
Documents written in various languages, such as Sanskrit(13)and Brāhmī(14), were discovered in Dandān-Uiliq, but the most historically significant were those documents written in Chinese which contained specific dates. For example, one document （Document Photograph(15) / Interpretation of Characters(16)） not only included the characters representing the date 781 a.d. (“Dali Year 16” 大暦十六年), but the location in which the document was produced was also listed as “Li-hsieh in “Liucheng (六城).”
The record reveals that Li-hsieh was a district were Dandān-Uiliq’s temples and the living quarters were located and that Li-hsieh was part of an administrative district called Liucheng. Additional information gleaned from another Chinese document found at the site （Document Photograph(17) / Interpretation of Characters(18)） revealed that one of the ruins was that of the Huguosi (護国寺, “State Guardian”) Temple.
Furthermore, the condition in which the documents were found provided some hints in solving the mystery regarding the fall of the city, for all of the documents were found completely covering the floors of the buildings. One immediately wonders why the documents were left scattered on the floors in such a way, and the most likely answer is that after the documents were scattered across the floors, sand was blown into the room, weighing down the documents in sich a way that they could not be scattered in the winds.
Therefore, it is believed that the dates found in these documents tell precisely when Dandān-Uiliq was abandoned. It was this which gave Stein the hint to propose that Dandān-Uiliq was abandoned around the end of 8th century. The date found on one of the coins discovered by Stein at the site matches this period with the inscription Qianyuan Zhongbao (乾元重宝)(19) -- (dated 758-9).
Why was Dandān-Uiliq abandoned? Sven Hedin, known for his “Wondering Lake” theory, suggested that
the people abandoned the city because the Keriya Darya River (the north-south river on the right side of the map(1)) changed its course, moving approximately 45 kilometers east of its former location. However, Stein rejected this theory based on results he found from excavation and land measurements.
Stein, focusing on the fact that the period recorded in Chinese histories as marking the end of Tang rule over the Tarīm basin matched the last moments of Dandān-Uiliq that could be deducted from the excavated relics, posited this as the reason behind the abandonment of the city. For a desert settlement that depended on water drawn from distant rivers, the collapse of a stable government that could maintain the irrigation system would have been critical.
Thus, Stein concluded that political chaos, namely the collapse of Chinese rule, was what caused the abandonment of Dandān-Uiliq. Whether Stein was correct or Hedin was correct or there was some other reason, there must have been some incident which occurred that led the people of Dandān-Uiliq to decide to abandon this settlement surrounded by the desert.
Traces of Khōtan in the Desert
Prior to the Dandān-Uiliq excavation, Stein had suveyed the ancient Khōtan capital of Yōtkan. However, because the irrigation system constantly brought in water and dirt, conditions at the Yōtkan site were not suitable for preserving ancient relics. Thus, Stein did not gain much from his work excavating the ruins there. It is unfortunate since Yōtkan was once a great Buddhist kingdom, which Xuanzang described as having “over a thousand temples with more than five thousand monks, who all study Mahāyāna Buddhism (“Great Vehicle” Buddhism). The king is an excellent warrior, and respects Buddhism.”
Stein found far more traces of the Buddhist kingdom of Khōtan at the Dandān-Uiliq site, which at the time of the kingdom was actually only a small-scale settlement located at the distant edge of the kingdom. Because Dandān-Uiliq was a settlement created artificially by drawing river water into the desert, no one moved into the site after it was abandoned, and the it was left unaffected by water and dirt from irrigation. For this reason, the relics were preserved in good condition.
In what is bleak desert, Stein discovered the abandoned ruins of temples and living quarters, ancient orchards and tree-lined avenues. He also found the traces of irrigation canals and areas filled with debris from common residences that were all reminiscent of the vivid images described by Xuanzang in his Great Tang Records on the Western Regions Stein himself would say: “How well do the things that I see and have discovered here match with what the ancient Tang monk Xuanzang described in his book about the Buddhism that once flourished in this area.”
What Stein found in Dandān-Uiliq were relics could only call to mind what was described by the legendary Tang dynasty monk’s travels to ancient Khōtan as written in the Great Tang Records on the Western Regions. Stein was full of emotion as he imagined what Xuanzang must have seen when he passed through Khōtan on his way back from India. Stein was said to have constantly carried with him the Stanislas Julien translation of the Great Tang Records on the Western Regionsduring his excavations.
Comparing the landscapes and the ruins he was looking at with those descriptions of the same places found in Xuanzang’s book, the Tang dynasty monk would come to have a special hold on Stein’s heart. And, Dandān-Uiliq, in particular stood as that special place for Stein where the Xuanzang’s travels to the Buddhist kingdoms of Central Asia, came to life.
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